Homesteaders tend to fall automatically into the DIY lifestyle category. We are self-reliant creators, workers and doers.
As clever as our hands are, sometimes they need the help of a useful tool to get the job done right.
If you are off-the-grid, then a source of energy may be one of your main concerns when looking for a set of practical hand tools.
Let the power source be you (fueled by a healthy diet, fresh air and a glowing sense of self-sufficiency), get a firm grip on a tool handle and use your energy for good.
Owning, or renting, a homestead means that there will be gardening, cleaning, maintenance and repairs throughout the year, with chores to be done daily, many of them best carried out with the most adequate special tools or a multi-purpose one that might come the closest.
Either way, go the simple route and start growing a collection of hand tools that can outlast any mechanical-power ones.
Related Reading: 10 Best Books Every Homesteader Should Read
Hand tools for outside work
While chainsaws and lawnmowers have seen an increase in use in recent decades, it is still the hand tools that get the job done every time – even when the power is out.
With hand tools in your shed, there is no need to worry about gasoline, motor oil or other toxins associated with the maintenance of power tools.
Another reason to choose hand tools over power tools? They are a wonderful way to make your homestead plastic-free as you embrace a sustainable life. And with proper use, you are less likely to hurt yourself too.
If you have a wood-burning stove, a trusty axe will be high up on your list of hand tools to own.
Without it, there will be no kindling, which makes it difficult to start a fire for your morning coffee or herbal tea. If you can’t split wood to the correct size, your logs may be too large to burn well in the fire chamber.
Of course, you can hire someone to split wood for you, but it will cost you a pretty penny on top of the cost of dry firewood (unless you can source firewood for free), besides splitting wood is one of the great joys of living off the land!
Choosing the best axe can be quite a challenge. You’ll need to look at head weight and handle length, you’ll want to decide primarily what its purpose is and the duration of use at a time.
Fellow Rural Sprout author, Tracey, swears by her Fiskars Super Splitting Axe.
She wrote about how to properly split, season and store firewood on your homestead in her article here and talked about the best type of firewood to burn here.
Before long, you will have at least 2 axes: a hatchet for light work and a splitting axe for creating your winter woodpile.
2. Hand saw
Depending on the project at hand, you’ll need at least a couple of hand saws on your homestead.
At different times of the year you will be mending fences, cutting firewood or working on home repairs. While some saws are versatile, most have a specific job they do best.
A ripsaw comes in handy for when you need to cut boards along the grain. Then there are bow saws for cutting logs which can be used by a single person. You may also need a metal saw if you will be cutting rebar or metal rods.
Find a detailed list on how to choose the correct saws for your homestead at There’s A Saw for That! Your Handsaw Handbook @ MyBluprint
3. Cross-cut saw
In the pursuit of processing our own firewood without a hydraulic splitter and chainsaw, you can always do what they did in the past – use a 2-person crosscut saw.
With a constant pull in either direction they are incredibly efficient at cutting even the largest logs.
Consider them Earth-friendly, for the very reasons that they only use the energy you put into them, they are quiet (so you are unlikely to disturb wildlife or neighbors), and they don’t put off a gasoline/oil smell like a chainsaw does.
Another plus of using a crosscut saw is that they slice the wood in a “clean” way, leaving you with more heat for the fireplace.
Two Man Tuttle Tooth Saws @ Crosscut Saw Co.
4. Sawhorse or sawbuck
Once you start processing firewood, or working on DIY projects that involve a lot of cutting, a sawhorse is of utmost importance, both for convenience and for safety.
Most sawhorses can be folded up for easy storage, and brought back out when you need them again. But think about the longevity and craftsmanship, making sure you are getting a good value.
Plastic sawhorses are cheap, though they may not last longer than a single project (you could just use an old table instead in a pinch). Sturdy wood makes for an excellent sawhorse if you have a semi-permanent location for it, otherwise aluminum wins with a combination of strength and lightness that allows it to easily be moved from project to project.
Of course, you can always make your own:
Make your own sawbuck @ Instructables
5. Shovels and spades
Both are tools for digging, though they are not one and the same. Spades have a pointier edge that is used to break through tougher material, or hard ground, while shovels are used more for scooping and moving dirt, sand, rock, gravel or mulch.
There are square shovels, trench shovels, plumber’s shovels, scoop shovels, edgers, drain spades… So how to choose the right one(s) for your homestead?
This article, The 8 Types of Shovels Everyone Should Know @ Gizmodo should dig some clarity on the situation.
6. Multi-purpose knife
Just as you need knives in the kitchen, you also need them in the garden, and anywhere outdoors.
Think of it as a survival knife and keep a couple in designated locations. Simpler ones with single, plain blades are better than serrated blades for everyday use.
If you are looking for something truly multi-purpose with all the bells and whistles, like 27 functions including needle nose pliers, screwdrivers, bottle openers, scissors, wire cutters, chisel, scraper and more, then you are in luck.
This Victorinox Swiss Army SwissTool in leather pouch is just what you need.
7. Rake – wood or metal
However, it is not just leaves that need raking. You may want to level the ground after digging, in which case a heavier, metal rake will be the better choice.
If you need to turn or move hay, then a wooden hay rake will be necessary. Use one that is right for the job and the task at hand will be less of a chore, more of an opportunity to be outside, enjoying nature.
If you have stopped digging your garden, you can skip this tool.
If not, it will come in handy all throughout the summer.
There are so many types of garden hoes to choose from. You may just have to experiment and find out what feels best in your hands.
No home should be without a hammer. But what kind of hammer?
Well, it depends on what you need it for. Are you building or putting up shingles? Do you need a ball-peen hammer for metalworking? Are you working with brick and stone, or are you hanging up a picture on the wall?
Every hammer has a job, for safety’s sake, make sure to use the right one and learn how to swing it correctly too.
How to Use a Claw Hammer the Right Way @ Cut The Wood
10. Set of screwdrivers
Just as a hammer deserves a place in the toolbox, so does a quality set of screwdrivers in multiple lengths and sizes.
A Craftsman 8-Piece Phillips and Slotted Set is a great place to start.
11. Wrench set
Choosing the wrong tool, even for a simple job, can do more damage than good. A pair of pliers is not the answer to everything!
If you have a stuck nut to remove, the wrench is your friend.
There are open-ended wrenches that slip easily into narrow spots. Box-end wrenches that work the best when you have complete access the the top of a nut, and adjustable wrenches for when you need to work on a variety of nuts and bolts – just watch your knuckles!
They can slip off a nut and send your hand flying in an unknown direction.
Like when going out to a restaurant and examining the long menu, not knowing exactly what you want, or what your body needs, but you need to make a choice…
Pliers are like that. Options are plentiful and they all have a unique purpose.
Pliers can cut through wires, turn nuts and bolts (tongue and groove pliers), maintain the bolts on car batteries, while others are more essential to jewelry making. If you start making your own shoes, perhaps a pair of eyelet pliers is in your near future.
Before you buy, read up on the 33 Different Types of Pliers and Their Uses @ Garage Tool Advisor
While not technically a “hand tool”, a wheelbarrow is one of the most useful objects on a homestead.
Use it to move mulch, manure, hay, firewood, small kids looking to hitch a ride across the yard.
Do yourself a favor and choose a metal wheelbarrow with a solid wheel if you don’t have time or energy to deal with punctured/flat tires.
14. Level and tape measure
A level may not be at the top of your homestead tool list, but a tape measure should be. Often the two go hand in hand.
Whether you are working on home repairs, helping out a neighbor, or just making sure the garden fence is nice and tidy, it is good to see straight. This sense doesn’t flow naturally to us all, that’s where a level comes into play.
A versatile digging, gardening and landscaping tool is the pickaxe/adze. It can be used to break up tough, rocky soil and is also handy when digging trenches.
The pointy end is used for first breaking up the soil, the adze end for clearing the soil and debris away.
It is a tool that likely won’t be used often, so if you can borrow one, all the more power to you!
16. Nail pullers and crowbar
The back of a hammer works in a pinch to grab and remove nails from certain places, yet a nail puller gets the job done with less effort.
Use nail pullers for smaller nails and in tighter places, while the crowbar for large, more stubborn nails and where you have ample space to move it around.
If you have fences to repair, for instance, or barns to restore, a nail puller and/or a crowbar will become an often-used tool. Keep them both in a safe place, as they have been known to go missing (misplaced).
Lawnmowers can be pushed, or driven, all over your yard. But, what if you took an unconventional approach and let your lawn turn into a meadow, for the sake of benefiting biodiversity?
What if you have land and require hay for your animals’ winter feed; and need the grass to grow long enough to be worth harvesting and drying?
A scythe, as it turns out, may just become the most used hand tool in maintaining your “lawn”.
Truth is, you can use it on fairly short grass or clover too, and it is a great workout at the same time. Nature is a homesteader’s gym, so get ready to work your abs and mow your lawn the environmentally friendly way.
Go classic with a wooden handle, or adopt a more modern scythe, then get to work.
All the different aspects of scything takes practice – the peening, the sharpening, the mowing. Trust in the process. It is quiet, efficient and human-paced – not to mention tested by countless generations.
Whether you are planting/trimming trees, maintaining hedgerows, or working in the garden, a pair of quality pruners should never let you down.
That usually means you are going to be shelling out a little more money for durability, strength and ergonomic design that aids in cutting.
One of the best things about Felco, besides the fact that they last for decades, is that you can buy replacement blades when they are completely worn down. Less waste, and an overall excellent product.
19. Watering can
Why use plastic that breaks and cracks when you could be using metal? It is worth the extra weight, as it will truly outlast your time in the garden.
It shows style and class, plus it makes spot-watering and container gardening easy.
Hand Tools for the Home and Kitchen
In the quest for a sustainable homestead, there are some items that you can simply do without and a handful that are absolutely essential.
It’s a personal choice to have an old-fashioned kitchen where you make butter in a jar instead of a Kitchenaid, where the opportunity to use a hand-crank is a chance to get closer to the food you have grown.
If you are relying on solar or wind power as your renewable energy source, you’ll want to keep the following items in mind. And if you are connected to the grid, you might think twice about investing in them too – for one of them will always work, no matter what the weather brings.
20. Sewing kit
If you happen to have inherited a treadle sewing machine and actually know how to use it, then all the power is in your hands, and feet.
However, a small sewing kit suits most minor repair jobs nicely. And let’s not forget that ultimately hand stitching tends to be the strongest.
In it you will want to have:
- Sewing scissors
- Sewing threads
- Multiple size needles, even for sewing leather
- Needle-nose pliers
- Craft wire
Sewing is not a lost art, in fact it is a skill that is renewing itself as people become more eco-conscious, repairing everything from clothing to backpacks and toys to the best of their ability.
21. Hand crank meat grinder
Once you start butchering your own animals, there is no going back to store-bought meat from questionable origins.
While it may be nice to bake a roast every now and again, ground meat can be turned into so many appetizing dishes.
A meat grinder can also be used for vegetables too, so it only makes sense to have one in your home. After all, it may come in handy during canning season!
Stainless steel meat grinder from The Sausage Maker
22. Manual egg beater
When your hens start laying eggs, and they will, you will begin to experience an abundance like no other.
To make a scramble, a whisk works nicely, a fork will deliver quick result, but a manual egg beater is necessary for fluffy egg whites.
23. Mortar and pestle
A fine mortar and pestle is an underappreciated kitchen appliance.
Even though it has been used for centuries, it has somehow fallen by the wayside. We no longer grind or smash our own spices, we no longer make poultices with garden herbs. Instead we opt for the fastest ways of chopping and mincing, either with a food processor or knives, but one can never get the same flavor, or texture.
Olive wood is one option, marble is another. Brass is a classic option, but be warned – a single mortar and pestle may not be enough for all your smashing needs.
How to choose the best mortar and pestle @ Serious Eats
24. Coffee and spice grinder
A mortar and pestle can also serve as a spice grinder, though if it is coffee you have in mind, know that it is hard to achieve the right consistency for the perfect cup by smashing the beans alone.
A grinder is what you need to get going in the morning.
If you are a homestead coffee connoisseur, you’ll want to invest in a manual coffee grinder, one that is portable and can be used anywhere.
The only source of energy being your desire for a steaming mug of let’s-get-going-and-get-some-work-done!
A JavaPresse coffee grinder with adjustable settings is heaven in stainless steel container.
25. French press or percolator
Now, that you have ground your beans for a drip coffee, French press or an eye-opening espresso, you’ll want to find a way to add hot water to your finely ground beans.
Plug-in coffee makers are out, percolators are in.
You can use them on your wood stove, over the campfire, even take them out to the garden as you watch your zucchini grow.
They are portable, easy to clean, and they make a wonderful brew. 9 cups at a time, just in case guests are coming over for breakfast.
This Eurolux Percolator Coffee Pot is a great conversation starter.
26. Can opener
Electric can openers have a certain beauty to their efficiency, however fewer things are more rewarding than getting to what is inside the can, even if it takes a bit of force.
Luckily, there are a lot of options out there, choose what is ergonomically right for you.
If you are looking to save space in your kitchen, you can’t go more simple than this can opener introduced in 1942.
It is rugged, yet it works. And your hands will be stronger because of it.
27. Cast iron pots and pans
All homesteaders cook, that much is true. Whether it is just bacon and eggs (fresh from your hens), or a grand feast for 20, cooking is one of the essential survival skills that is needed outside of the cityscape.
Restaurants are few and far between in the countryside, so you’ll have to become the chef you were meant to be, or go hungry with so much food growing around you.
Nothing surpasses a good quality set of cast iron pans. They can last for years and be passed down to the next generation.
How to properly use and season cast iron by The Fewell Homestead
28. Set of knives
Choosing a set of long lasting knives is one of the hardest things you will ever have to do.
Not only do you have to consider the length of the blade, you also need to think about the grip of the handle, the weight, the thickness of the blade and what it can do in your hands.
Knives can be multi-purpose, or they can favor one thing.
If you are into canning and preserving food, you cannot be without a pair, or more, of paring knives, so everyone can get in on the action.
Knives are a very personal choice, here is a video to help you make the best decision:
29. Knife sharpener
Once you have your blades set and sorted, it is wise to keep them sharp.
You can buy ones that look like modern art, others that are more perfunctory, or you can choose a more traditional whetstone for the true hands-on feel of sharpening.
The last option takes some practice, till you become comfortable with the technique, but if you ever have to sharpen a scythe, the learned motions will come in handy.
30. Hot water bath for canning
We are back to canning again, for one last item that is essential for preserving jams and pickles.
Aside from your other hand tools of wooden spoons, metal spatulas and strainers, you will want to have a water bath for canning.
This can be as simple as a large stockpot with a wire rack or a more precise Stainless Steel Multi-Use Canner With Temperature Indicator.
Bottom line: if you want to save the bounty of your garden and dine on it all season long, you need this item in your kitchen.
There’s also a lot to be said for a simple kitchen, and so often we get caught up in gadgets. Maybe it’s time to look in our kitchen drawers and get rid of some of those tools we all have, but don’t really need.
Other Hand Tools and Livestock Equipment
Outside of hand tools related to home and garden, you may have animals to think about and take care of.
Depending on your livestock situation (and the size of your homestead) you may need:
- Natural bailing twine
- Hay fork
- Post hole digger
- Post driver
- Milking buckets
- Blacksmithing tools
- Manure shovel
- Feeding troughs
To be prepared for all homestead repairs, it never hurts to have a toolbox full of the necessities: hammers, nails, screws, screw drivers, pliers, hand drill, pipe wrench, crow bar, Allen wrenches, socket wrenches and so on.
Hand Tools and Safety
Power tools are far more dangerous than hand tools, due to their speed and force in getting a job done. Of course, there is a time and a place for them, though for the majority of us, hand tools and steady hands can accomplish many of the same things.
Misuse and improper maintenance are the two greatest hazards when dealing with hand tools.
Learn to use them properly by means of watching someone more experienced, take a course and use your common sense.
Never use a chisel as a screwdriver, for example. The tip may break causing harm to you, or others standing nearby.
When you keep your tool blades sharp and clean, always in great condition, then they are bound to last a lifetime.
Borrowing vs. Owning Hand Tools
Minimalism means many things to many people, yet we believe homesteaders can be minimalists too, just with more tools in the shed.
The tools you use on a daily/weekly/monthly basis are the ones that you should own.
Tools that you use rarely, every half year or so, are possibly ones that you could borrow and share with like-minded community and neighbors. The point here is to keep good quality items in use, and by that we mean get out there and get busy! Mend, repair, make something new…
Utilize those self-reliant skills essential to homesteading and get creative with your hands.
Where to buy homesteading hand tools
After you have lived out in the countryside for some time, chances are good that you have already come across a local store that sells many of the essential homesteading tools that you need. If they don’t have what you are looking for, perhaps they can order it.
If not, online shopping is where you will find everything you could ever want and need.
The choice to support handmade artisans is at your service, as is the availability of thousands of items from Amazon.
In any case, seek out quality tools that can be used for decades, hopefully passed down to the next generation of homesteaders.
Discovering hand tools on a budget is an experience in itself!
Attend auctions, estate and garage sales to find the very best of the past. Many tools will have been heavily used, some in near mint condition. Take time for finding out what tools feel best in your hands, and you will always come out the winner.
Another way to invite useful hand tools into your life, is to let family and friends know about your hand tool wish list. Dream it up, write it down and inform those who might have extra tools laying around that you are in need.
Keep both a budget and an objective in mind as you start collecting all the hand tools that your homestead needs. With a little patience and proper planning you can acquire all tools with ease.
For our part, we couldn’t live without an axe, multiple saws and a stainless steel pot with strainer for making coffee.